MP WRITES: Power to the people

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THERE has been a definite change in the air in the last couple of days, with leaves falling from the trees and a decidedly cold nip in the air.

I should imagine that people are thinking, if they have not done so already, about getting their big winter coat out from the wardrobe, as well as turning the heat up.

Given the move into more autumnal and cold weather, it seems perfect timing that British Gas chose to announce significant price rises, just as people need to heat their homes through the impending winter.

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This price hike could have the impact of increasing household energy bills by an average of £100 a year, on top of recent price rises in fuel bills and rises in the cost of living for other essential items like food and petrol.

All this, at a time when British Gas’s interim financial report showing profits on UK residential customers rising by a whopping 23 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Of course British Gas is not the only energy company putting up prices. Npower will increase prices by about nine per cent and other companies are set to follow suit.

It does seem baffling that price rises are taking place. People will believe, with some justification, that the energy companies, perhaps like petrol retailers, are quick to put the price up when wholesale energy markets increase their prices, but you rarely see price falls when the wholesale price declines.

I am concerned that because of these price rises, on top of the other increases, people in Hartlepool, especially the elderly and the vulnerable in our town, will not feel able to stay warm this winter, or perhaps might have to go without a meal because of the price to pay for putting the fire or heating on.

I thought we’d thankfully moved away from the horror stories that I remember vividly from the 1980s, when elderly people died of hypothermia in their homes because they were too scared of the costs of heating their homes. I don’t want to live in a country where that happens – I want people to feel confident, secure and above all warm this winter.

There is much that can be done. Energy bills and tariffs are baffling, so it is difficult to find out as a customer if you’re on the best deal. The energy companies need to alter their billing arrangements to make it more transparent and easier to understand.

The regulator, Ofgem, has not been particularly protective of customers and so this arrangement needs to alter to ensure that consumers can have some protection.

There is another, more immediate and practical way to help. Customers may be able to save money by taking part in the “Switch Together” campaign organised by the Labour Party.

By buying in bulk, and for customers and communities coming together to switch energy providers, savings might be able to be made.

By registering details on the website, www.switchtogether.org.uk, the Labour Party with Ichoosr, an energy switching company, will conduct what is known as a reverse auction with energy suppliers. The lowest price offered wins and customers will have the option to switch to the new tariff.

This service is free, there is no obligation to switch energy provider if you decide not to and the Labour Party doesn’t make any money or hold personal details for those people who decide to register.

Energy prices will be a huge concern for people this winter. This is one practical way in which customers may be able to get a better deal.

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